Activism | Immigration

Delay and Dismay

Executive action on immigration

At the corner of 19th and Carpenter, Organized Communities Against Deportations (OCAD) gathered for a public forum introducing their new report on immigration reform, Destructive Delay. Written in response to President Obama’s call for patience from immigration rights groups, and to bring to light the practices of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the report gives a voice to the undocumented immigrant population. Tania Unzueta, the main author of the report led the evening’s presentation.

The presentation opened with criticism of President Obama’s handling of immigration reform in Washington. In March 2014, Obama made public that he was looking to make immigration policy “more humane.” The Obama Administration has continually delayed all executive action on this promise, and has asked for patience from immigration activist groups. In response, Unzueta made clear her disdain by referring to Obama as “El Gran Deportador.” She insisted that now is the time for true reform, and that her organization, in coalition with others, will continue to put pressure on the federal government until something is done.

The rest of the presentation concerned ICE, the government agency tasked with the enforcement of immigration law and the removal of those who violate it. According to OCAD’s findings, ICE’s inhumane practices include mistreatment of transgender detainees, collaboration with law enforcement agencies under investigation for civil rights violations, and the revocation of visitation rights of detainees whose families protest ICE action.

ICE claims to only pursue undocumented immigrants who have been deemed “threats” to society.  In response to that assertion, Unzueta responded with anecdotes from a mother of four, who was deported because of a single marijuana offense two decades earlier. After the presentation, a grandmother who failed to use a turn signal described her ordeal in a detention facility. Both of these cases illustrate for Unzueta the latitude that ICE has in determining what these “dangers to society” can look like.

The field director of Chicago’s ICE office is Ricardo Wong, a figure who many in the room held  responsible for their own mistreatment and broken families. His presence was felt both figuratively and literally. Before the meeting began, Unzueta placed a chair behind her podium with a sign saying “Ricardo Wong (ICE)” in bold black letters. People in the room snickered and someone cracked a joke about throwing tomatoes. Unzueta noted that she had extended a warm invitation to Wong to come and listen to what they had to say, and to participate in the conversation. He did not make an appearance.

After the presentation, audience members stood up to relate their own stories and hardships. Most talked about the dissolution of families. The majority of people in attendance were women, many of them with young children. The giggling and running of toddlers in the background throughout the presentation served as a stark reminder of what the women giving the presentation wanted to stress—that the “draconian deportation quota” tears apart families.

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